When we bought a 42-inch high-definition television set six months ago, I didn't realize I was getting a twofer. It's not only a great medium for movies and football games, but also the biggest computer monitor I've ever used. And certainly the most fun.
The notion of using the TV this way surfaced when I looked at the mind-boggling array of video and audio connectors on the back of the set and noticed a standard VGA port - the same kind a computer uses to connect to a monitor. The port on the TV was even labeled "PC."
A few months later, when my elder son visited and opened up his laptop in his favorite place - a recliner in front of the TV - I decided it was time to experiment. So I bought a 10-foot VGA cable and ran it from the laptop to the set. A few seconds later I was staring at the biggest Windows desktop I'd ever seen.
It turned out to be more than a novelty. We soon realized how convenient it was to be able to browse the Web in the little sitting room behind the kitchen where we read, relax and watch TV.
Now we can easily find the latest news or weather, check movie schedules, view big-screen versions of our photos and movies, watch YouTube video, and use Web search engines to settle those little disputes that emerge from time to time.
It's a lot better than trudging down to the basement - where, until now, all computers have been banished. It's also far more comfortable for browsing together than crowding around a small monitor.
And thanks to appropriate component concealment, the whole setup has a high WAF (wifely acceptance factor). That's the most important feature.
As we discovered, on a newer HDTV with a VGA port, the whole setup may take five minutes.
My permanent "big screen" computer turned out to be a five-year-old laptop whose liquid crystal display had died in an unfortunate bouncing accident a year before. It wasn't worth a pricey screen replacement, but the VGA port on the back still worked, so I'd been using it with a regular monitor to test new software and store music.
Now the laptop sits on a ventilated shelf in our entertainment center, hidden behind a closed door. I bought a wireless mouse and keyboard set to control it (about $50, but you can find one cheaper) and placed the receiver just under the TV.
Originally, we used the old laptop's wireless adapter to hook up to our network, but that was a bit poky. So eventually I splurged on a Netgear Powerline HD Ethernet adapter, which uses our home wiring for a much faster and more reliable ride.
To switch from TV to PC, I push a "PC" button on the set's remote control, which changes the input to the computer port. (Just be aware that some laptops automatically send a signal to the VGA port, while others require that you press a function key to switch the signal. So you might have to check that, too.)
Being an older laptop with a standard 4:3 aspect ratio (the ratio of width to height), my PC initially displayed a squarish window in the middle of the wide HDTV screen, with gray bars on either side. This is the way I watch most standard definition TV shows, too. Even though the Windows desktop didn't use the whole TV screen, it was a lot bigger than the display on any monitor I'd ever used.
If you try this and don't like the way things look, right-click on an empty space on your Windows desktop, choose Properties from the menu that pops up and select Settings from the gray control panel that appears.
You'll see a slider and a pull-down menu that allows you to select various resolutions (the number of horizontal and vertical pixels displayed on screen). You may find one that matches the widescreen aspect ratio of the TV set, or that's close to it. You can also use the Display Properties window to change the size of screen fonts and icons to please your eye.
Our TV (like most HD sets) also has a button to set the "size" of the screen. Basically, this will "stretch" a 4:3 image into a wide screen, with varying degrees of distortion.
Another issue was sound. PCs (including laptops) use a single sound cable with a 3.5 mm stereo plug that fits the powered speakers designed for computers. A few new TVs have these audio ports, but it's more likely that yours has a spare set of dual inputs (right and left channel) designed for audio cables with RCA jacks.
To use these audio inputs, you'll need a set of RCA cables and a "Y" adapter for your PC. They're available at most consumer electronics stores. You can also order a 6 1/2 -foot Y-cable/adapter that does it all from RadioShack (Cat. No. 55017051, $7.95).
This audio setup will also work if you route your sound through a stereo receiver or home theater. Either way, you will probably have to use your TV set's remote or your receiver's controls to switch the sound source to your PC. And don't forget to change it back when it's time to watch TV again.
If your TV doesn't have a VGA port, there are still options. One is an adapter that routes a VGA signal to the so-called "component" ports of an HDTV set (if they're available). A computer with a DVI output port (designed for digital monitors) may also be able to connect to an open HDMI input on a high-def TV set (but not always).
These setups can be far more complicated than straight VGA, so before you break anything, consult an installer or the folks who sold you the TV. You'll also find good basic information at: www.hdtvtunerinfo.com/connectpctohdtv.ht ml